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Catching up with Old Friends: Victor Martinez

June 26th, 2014 at 6:22 PM
By Sean Penney

The Boston Red Sox acquired catcher Victor Martinez in a trade with the Cleveland Indians right at the deadline of the 2009 season for a package of prospects headlined by Justin Masterson. Boston was eager to add an impact bat to give them a boost for the final stretch and Martinez was one of the flashiest names available. The plan worked to an extent, as the Red Sox clinched the Wild Card to advance to the postseason, but they were swept in the first round by the LA Angels.

Keith Allison / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Martinez lasted less than a year and a half in Boston, but proved to be one of the most productive bats in the lineup while he was here. He hit .336/.405/507 in 56 games after the trade and finished the season worth 3.2 WAR when combining his early season numbers with the Indians. He followed that season up by hitting .302/.351/.493 with 20 HRs and 79 RBIs in 127 games, while posting a 3.3 WAR. Those are outstanding numbers for a catcher, but it wasn't enough to help Boston get back to the postseason in 2010. Martinez was productive enough to be worth the price, but it led to zero postseason wins.

Martinez became a free agent after the 2010 season and left to sign a 4-year, $50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox had been interested in keeping him, but not at that price. They offered him options of 3-years, $36 million or 4-years, $42 million, but weren't willing to match what the Tigers were offering. While losing his bat in the lineup would hurt, the rationale at the time seemed sound considering he was an aging catcher on the wrong side of 30 who would inevitably start to decline.

Except he hasn't really declined – at least not with his bat. Martinez hit .314 through his first two seasons in Detroit and averaged 13 HRs and 93 RBIs. His WAR has dipped a bit, dropping to 2.9 his first year as a Tiger and sinking to 1.2 last year, but that can mostly be attributed to spending more time as a DH. His days catching behind the plate are essentially over at this point, which has been a hit to his overall value, but his offensive production still makes him an asset.

At an age where he should be declining, Martinez has bounced back with arguably the best season of his career at the plate so far. He's hitting .330/.387/.610 with 20 HRs, 52 RBI with a 2.6 WAR and the season isn't even half over yet! He's second in the AL in batting average and his unexpected power surge has him 4th in the league in HRs. It appears that the added rest that comes with being a DH, rather than getting beat up behind the dish, agrees with him.

The struggling Red Sox offense could certainly use a bat like his in their lineup these days. The problem is, there's no place to put him. Part of why they didn't increase their offer to keep him away from Detroit is that they knew his days of being a catcher would come to an end soon. Boston already has David Ortiz as their everyday DH and as good as Martinez has been, he wasn't going to replace the iconic Big Papi. They could have used him at 1B instead, but the Red Sox ended up trading for Adrian Gonzalez to fill that position, so with the expectation that those positions would be unavailable, a long term deal for Martinez wasn't' feasible. Of course Gonzalez is gone now, but Mike Napoli has been a valuable replacement. Sure, Martinez is better than Napoli, but he'd be upgrading a position that isn't really a weakness. The Sox have bigger holes to fill right now.

Martinez will be fondly remembered for his contributions in his brief time in Boston, but regardless of how productive he has been since he left, it's tough to argue against the decision to let him go – at least based on the information we had at the time. 

Tags: Baseball, Boston, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, MLB, Victor Martinez

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